Sustainable alternatives for diesel vehicles – Interview with Michael De Koster

The number of vehicles on the Belgian roads increases each year, as does the level of CO2-emissions. As a leader of the zero-carbon transition, ENGIE is actively working on ‘greening’ the area of mobility; it's one of its most important strategic cornerstones. Michael De Koster, Head of Innovation e-Mobility at ENGIE, explains how ENGIE goes about this and why it is better to choose sustainable alternatives.

The introduction of low-emission zones in a few large cities in Belgium has made people think about and even move towards choosing an environmentally-friendly vehicle. The range of alternative fuels is expanding. But which fuel is the most environmentally-friendly?

‘Today, transport is responsible for 23% of worldwide CO2-emissions. 95% of transport involves the use of oil-based fuels. Diesel and petrol vehicles and, more recently and to a lesser extent, LPG cars rule the roads. Since the implementation of low-emission zones in larger cities in Belgium, we have seen a reduction in diesel vehicles for the first time. People are choosing petrol vehicles or daring to choose a sustainable alternative.

Hybrid cars are the first step in the right direction. They combine two different technologies. They use petrol or diesel but can also use an electric drive. The autonomy of the electric drive is just 30 to 40 km, which means they are ideal for cities. The battery is then charged while driving. A plug-in hybrid is a a hybrid vehicle which can be connected to an external energy source. These types of vehicle produce CO2-emissions but are more environmentally-friendly. They are also more expensive than a car which runs on fossil fuels but can be a good choice for people who often drive around cities.

CNG (Compressed Natural Gas - not to be confused with LPG – Liquefied Petroleum Gas) is less polluting than petrol or diesel; CO2 emissions are 20% lower and it is regarded as a transitional fuel. CNG does better with respect to NOX and fine particulates too. In 2018, sales of CNG vehicles increased enormously. It is a great alternative and makes economic sense, as the cars are only slightly more expensive than a petrol/diesel car. The range of over 800 km is also very appealing. The expansion of infrastructure for charging the vehicles is progressing rapidly.

And then we come to electric vehicles, which are the most environmentally-friendly of all and do not produce CO2, NOX or fine particulate emissions. Furthermore, the charging structure is supplied by renewable energy. In 2019, sales of EV overtook sales of CNG vehicles.

Hydrogen is the fuel of the future and ideal for heavier road transport. The fuel is extremely environmentally-friendly because it is generated via electrolysis. This is a process whereby sustainably produced electricity is released in water to generate hydrogen and oxygen.

In the long-term, the purchase of vehicles which run on fossil fuels will cease to have any fiscal benefits and this will then encourage and simplify the move to sustainable alternatives. The tax-deductions associated with diesel and petrol vehicles were recently reviewed and the government is planning additional fiscal amendments in the near future in order to influence people's choices. Nevertheless, making the change is still hard, particularly in relation to price and infrastructure. Cities and businesses must ensure that people, companies and organisations are able to shift to green mobility easily. 

How does ENGIE support greener mobility?

‘As a leader in the energy transition process, we take our responsibilities seriously and facilitate customised, carbon-free mobility solutions for our customers. ENGIE’s strategy regarding mobility rests on two cornerstones. On the one hand, we are working on raising the sustainability of mobility by simplifying the use of electric vehicles, CNG lorries and hydrogen vehicles, and also by continuing to innovate. 

  • We offer all-in charging solutions which can be customised to the private individual or the business market. We are also entering into sustainable partnerships in order to support innovations in this area. One of these partnerships is with Jedlix, an international clean-tech start-up for smart charging solutions. Smatch is our intelligent charging solution for businesses. Smart charging means that electric vehicles are charged at the ‘best’ moment, i.e. when there is sufficient and preferably renewable energy available on the grid; the charging process will be delayed if the energy demand is higher than the supply so that the electricity network can remain balanced. In order to ease access to electric vehicles, we recently launched an integrated range with Arval for both private and professional customers, which encompasses EV lease vehicles, a charging infrastructure at home and at work (including maintenance and other services), and also access to the public charging infrastructure.  
  • We are looking into how we can further boost the CNG market by building more CNG filling stations, via our partnership with ENORA, and ensuring that these are located near companies with a large lorry fleet so they can become 'greener’. 
  • With respect to hydrogen, ENGIE is currently focusing on a pilot project in Wallonia, to switch the bus fleet to hydrogen. It's a pressing problem because, by 2025, all public buses in Belgium must use alternative fuels.

On the other hand, it is also vital to tackle the congestion problem. Via our various entities, we are working on intelligent mobility to optimise traffic flow but also to stimulate soft, non-motorised mobility. After all, soft mobility is still the most sustainable type of mobility.